By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC, IDP-AT
So many people are scared to talk about mental health. Why is that? We all have mental health, right? I want to take time today to share with you what mental health really is and how to ensure you will stay mentally healthy during this upcoming year.
The Pillars of Mental Health
To be mentally healthy, you need the following things:
- Physical Activity
- Stress Management
They say there is downtime in a family is to be lying. There is always laundry that needs to be done, sports or clubs to get to, and special toys to find that have gone missing. With that said, our nutrition tends to get put on the back burner.
When we are eating at regular times (and eating things that might not otherwise come from a gas station or fast food), we are helping ourselves stay mentally healthy and a couple of different ways. First, when we eat at regular intervals, our blood sugar will stay level. This means we will not get that weird anxiety when we’re super hungry, or get very irritable and angry for no reason. Second, eating at regular intervals allows our body to produce a chemical called serotonin. Serotonin is directly correlated with feeling good, calm, and happy.
Along with eating at regular periods, eating certain foods can actually increase the production of that serotonin. When we choose to eat things and their whole state, like fruits and vegetables, our body will naturally produce more serotonin. If we can get our body to produce more of what makes us happy, that means we are more alert and present not just with our work, but with your family.
Being a parent (on top of working full-time) is a very physically demanding role for those involved. When we talk about physical activity, it might escape your mind that as you are moving you are actually improving your mental health.
Physical activity is directly correlated with the release of the chemical, endorphins. Endorphins are known to:
- reduce both physical and emotional pain
- improve attention and motivation
- increase quality of sleep
So the next time you are moving around your house, or chasing kids, or even taking out the trash, give yourself credit for doing something that improves your mental health!
For many, rest is a dirty word that should not be muttered unless someone is dying. The reality is, our body is need rest. Period. If you were to look at your pets, for example, what happens when they are not allowed to rest when they are sick or hurt? They don’t recover nearly as fast.
When you take time to rest (and stop guilting yourself into how you should be working on your massive To Do List instead), your body repays you by releasing a chemical called GABA. This little chemical is related to relaxing muscle tension, decrease in headache, and decrease in production of the stress hormone, cortisol.
By choosing to take some downtime, typically between 20 and 30 minutes, to actually let your brain rest, you can start to notice a natural decrease in stress levels, improved communication with the people around you, and a quicker time and falling asleep.
What comes to your mind when you think of stress management? Is it taking a bubble bath are squeezing a stress ball? If so, stress management is way more than that.
For parents, stress is part of our daily lives. Whether it be forces outside of our control (like strep throat or snow days), or in our control (like getting the car in for a regular oil changes or grocery shopping), stress comes as natural to us in the parenting role. But with stress comes some nasty side effects, including chronic headache, irritability, increased risk of heart disease, anxiety, and depression (as I stress-eat a quart of ice cream with whipped cream).
As we talk about stress management, stress management can come and all sort of different ways. Whether it is taking time away to go on that fishing trip with your friends, allowing yourself to focus just on one task at a time, or even talking to someone (gasp!), taking care of your stress levels has a direct effect on productivity and income levels.
How to Ask For Help
Asking for help can be a very scary thing. For some, asking for help means that you’re admitting weakness and vulnerability, which can be very overwhelming if your schedule is already full. Likewise, it can be just as scary to ask how someone is doing because we might not know what to say in that moment that can be helpful.
If you find yourself in that boat that you need to ask for help, there is a couple of simple ways to do so:
- Ask over text – as weird as it sounds, asking a friend, family member, co-worker, or friendly neighbor over text allows you to get to the point.
- Say what you need – If sharing how stressed or alone you are isn’t your cup of tea, ask for help in a different way. This could be as simple as saying “can you give me a hand with snow blowing” or “I would appreciate if we could just grab a cup of coffee”
- Talk to your animals – we have a close connection with our animals. Telling them what you are going through is a great way to unload some of those heavier emotions knowing they will not share that information with the world.
When You Notice Something
Now, if you are someone who is noticing other people struggling, there is a supportive way to be there for them:
- check-in on them – whether it is a text or stopping by the farm, asking if someone is okay lets them know you are here for them
- Listen! – Sometimes, we feel like we need to have the answers for someone. Most of the time, I have found that people want a sounding board. Listening is the most powerful thing you can do for someone
- Know your local resources – Sometimes, in the darkest situations, we have to initiate some sort of help for those we care about. Know your local resources so you can help them find the additional support they need in the most respectful way.
Sometimes, life can get overwhelming, and we don’t know where to turn. If you keep these four pillars in mind, and allow yourself to focus on them, you can improve your overall stress levels in life, and help your family thrive!